Wednesday, June 26, 2013

In the end, the love you give...

A total joy and privilege was given to me today:  I was asked to officiate at the memorial service for a dear friend's father.  My homily notes follow below but let me share these quick observations:

+ First, I hadn't seen some of the family members since 1972, but when we walked into the hall it was like time didn't matter.  Mercy, but I love these people.

+ Second, some of my oldest church contacts were present:  Don and Georgia Brown (and their dear daughter, Patti) who were our youth group leaders back in the day.  I was stunned seeing them all (they are about 90 years old) and still as sharp and loving as ever.  When I left, Mrs. Brown said, "God be with you always!" just as I recall.

+ And third, what a GREAT family Farnam and Irene Lefferts raised:  four bright, sensitive, loving and creative boys who have become incredible men and fathers.  Their testimonies and music made my soul rejoice.  What's more, because I have known them for over 48 years it was like a reunion filled with depth and love.  And when we closed the service singing "Amen" a capella with all those harmonies... it was a little bit of heaven.

REFLECTIONS FOR A MEMORIAL SERVICE: Farnham Lefferts – June 26, 2013

In the name and presence of all that is Sacred, I welcome you to this service of remembering – sharing – loving and releasing.  With the whole Lefferts family, we gather in sorrow and celebration to mark the passing of Farnham Lefferts:  husband, father and friend – musician, servant, and fisherman – ally of all that was creative, beautiful and true – child of God.

When we gather like this to reflect upon the life of a man who has touched so many other lives, it is essential to do so with care and compassion – with respect, humility and a holy sense of humor as well.   Because, you see, as the Beatles knew so well, in the end, the love you give is equal to the love you make.    
And if you look around this room – if you are open to what is taking place in this sacred moment – you have to know that there is a whole lotta of love in this place.  I think that’s how those old school prophets from another age, Led Zeppelin, put it, right?  A whole lotta love…?
And I’m talking about all types of love:  the love between husband and wife, the love born within father and sons, love shared between Creator and creation, a love celebrated between colleagues and artists, a love received when it was barely deserved and a love given with a generosity and depth that is beyond our wildest imagination. 
Indeed, in the end our calling is to honor the love – all of the love – perfect and failing, spoken and silent, cherished and mysterious.
In my spiritual tradition, there is an ancient poem that gives shape and form to the varieties of love we honor today that says in part:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end

So today one of our tributes in love is grounded in all the different ways – stunning and pure as well as flawed and imperfect – that Farnham Lefferts shared and received love over the course of a long and productive 86 years of life. 
There was love of God and country for he served his nation during WWII in the Navy.  There was love of truth, beauty and goodness on so many creative levels.
There was love of nature as a fly-fisherman in the Adirondacks.

And there was his deep love for his own family – and let me take a little time with this love.  Irene and Farnham shared life together as husband and wife for 62 years.  Such a commitment is almost unheard of in our generation – and we know that it took a great deal of dedication, sacrifice, patience and forgiveness for this love to last – but thanks be to God it did because this love created space for others to be nourished by love.
As a teen I used to LOVE to go over to the Lefferts house – the last time was about 1972 – but I always felt welcomed and safe there.  It was beautiful, of course, but more than the physical beauty, there was the tenderness of Irene and Farnham’s generous hospitality. And in every spiritual tradition all over the world, sacred hospitality is a living prayer – like the Sanskrit welcome NAMASTE that means “the sacred within me honors and greets the holy within your humanity – that’s what it felt like to hang at the Lefferts house:  safe and beautiful and saturated in hospitality.

So let me push this notion of love just one step farther:   Within the Lefferts home there was also the love shared between father and sons. I remember the first time I met Mr. Lefferts – and I have to call him that at least once today – because our first encounter goes back to 9th grade.  You see, I met Hal in junior high school – and thought he was the best guitar player in town – especially when I went into the Mather Junior High School gym one afternoon and Hal’s band was playing “Liar, Liar” by The Castaways.  It blew me away – and he just kept getting better and better.
Well, one day we took the train from Darien into NYC so that he could buy some guitar gear at Manny’s Music Store on W. 48th Street.  Like many things from the “good ol’days” Manny’s is no more…but on that day it was popping and as Hal was buying something – it might have been a fuzz-wah pedal – the manager of the store wanted to know if we wanted to be introduced to Gene Cornish of the Young Rascals.  Their song “Groovin” was at the top of the charts and it was just too kewel for school to meet him.
And then we bopped over to Tiffany’s to say hi to Hal’s dad.  And this was just too awesome for me – I had seen the movie with Audrey Hepburn but never thought I’d go INTO Tiffany’s – but all of sudden there we were shaking hands with the main man.  And it was Hal’s dad – totally blew my mind – but here’s the really important thing beyond my shock and awe at meeting the President of Tiffany’s:  Mr. Lefferts looked at his young son, the guitar wizard, with love in his eyes. 

I still remember that look because unless I’m mistaken I’ve seen something very much like it whenever Hal speaks of his own beloved children.  And I’d be willing to lay wager that this is true for the wider Lefferts clan as well. On that day in NYC it was clear to me that at his core, this was a man who loved his children profoundly. And on that ordinary day when he took time out of his work to both welcome and listen to his son, he couldn’t help but gaze upon him with reverence. 

In just a moment you will hear more about this love from each of Farnham’s sons. And while it was shared uniquely between them – it was different for Hal than it was for Seth, different for Pieter than it was for Marshall as is true in every family – this love was real and deep and authentic.  So today we return thanks to God for all the forms of love shared in this family.

Can I get an AMEN for that?  Please know there we’re not going Pentecostal – and probably not everyone shares the same spirituality – but can I get an AMEN for the love that was shared in this family?

Now there are two other essential truths that must be named on this day:  the mystery of death and the invitation of grace.  Death changes everything, yes?  And if we are honest nobody is ever prepared for the emptiness death brings.  Sometimes it is agonizing and sometimes a relief – sometimes it stuns us into silence and sometimes all we can do is weep.  And while we know in our heads that death must come to us all eventually, it always takes our hearts longer to catch up.  That’s why for months – some times years – it is natural to be stunned over and again by the sting of death.

So the sacred song of love asks that we be tender and patient with those who are grieving.  They need time to take it all in and time to feel the magnitude of this loss.  They need time and space to comprehend how life has changed and how life should be lived differently now that Farnham has gone. It just can’t be clear all at once so death invites us to take all the time and space we need.  Another great mountain fly-fisherman, the writer Norman MacLean, put it like this at the end of his book A River Runs through It as he contemplated the meaning of his life in the context of death:

Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise. Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops.
Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.

Death changes everything and invites us to wait patiently and reverently for the new ways we will respond to the invitation of love.

And finally, death asks us to make a choice:  are we willing to trust that there is a love greater than our limited understanding and experience that truly makes all things right?  In my tradition we speak of this as grace – the healing that comes from beyond whether we deserve it or not – that heals all wounds, binds all things together and forgives all failings.  We don’t have to understand it – it is, after all, incomprehensible. 

But death asks us to choose to trust grace for this is the only way to be at peace with our loved ones and ourselves. In every life, in every love, in every passing just below the surface there are always mistakes that can no longer be fixed – words that can no longer be spoken – hurts that can no longer be healed. And if we can’t trust that there is a love greater than our limitations, we will be trapped by regret and shame.  That’s why the great moral theologian of the 21st century, Bono from the band U2, tells us that in the end grace trumps karma.  That is the sacred promise:  grace trumps karma.

It is the assurance that there is a love greater than our imagination and stronger than our wounds.  And if we choose to become allies of grace, then death can share with us blessings more profound that our grief.

As I understand it, Mr. Lefferts – Farnham – gave much of his life to the pursuit of beauty – it was his living prayer – and in this he was an ally of grace.  In his core he grasped that in life, in death, in life beyond death the love you give is equal to the love you make.  May we find the grace to do likewise in our own way.

Please pray with me:

Into your loving care, Lord, we commend Farnham Lefferts as he journeys with you beyond our sight.  Acknowledge, we humbly pray, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a son of your own redeeming.  Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace and into the company of the saints in light.  Amen.

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